Recently, across the United States, fast food workers who receive the minimum wage have vowed to engage in civil disobedience in order to convince their corporate employers to raise their hourly wage to $15, or a living wage. However, one problem that faced them was corporations like McDonald's insisting that it was the franchise owners, the people who owned and controlled individual stores, who set the wage, not the corporations. If that were truly the case, workers who wanted to organize a union would face the extremely difficult task of organizing each store separately. Fortunately for the workers, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that McDonald's could be considered a joint employer in any complaints against the individual franchises. Therefore, the McDonalds corporation could be exposed to liability for actions taken by the franchises.
Across the country, including in Indiana and Kentucky, the majority of McDonalds’ 14,000 stores are owned and operated by franchisees. This is also true of other fast food chains like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. The separation has allowed corporate leaders to argue that disgruntled workers should take their complaints to the individual franchise owners. In fact, individual franchise owners have little control over the way they operate the business, due to the strict terms the parent corporation imposes, from the type of menus to available supplies, appropriate uniforms, and training materials.
In the case of McDonald's, longtime workers note that the corporation routinely sent representatives to check on the franchise owners and see how smoothly they were running the store. This included even checking how long it took for cars to go through the drive-through. Managers of the franchises were under constant pressure to keep the costs of operation low.
Since 2012, workers have filed 181 cases involving McDonald's with the NLRB. Of that number, 43 were determined to have sufficient merit. Should McDonald's be unable to reach a settlement with the workers, it would be named as a respondent in an NLRB hearing. It is an encouraging situation for fast food workers, who have long struggled with low pay and unforgiving work requirements, such as unpaid sick days. With McDonald's named as a joint employer, it seems reasonable to expect that other large fast food corporations would be as well. This has the added benefit of making it easier for workers to organize into unions that deal with entire fast food chains rather than tiny unions that must contend with individual installments, which in turn makes it more likely that larger-scale changes could be enacted in wages and working conditions.
Meanwhile, McDonalds and franchisees alike have vowed to fight the NLRB’s designation of McDonald's as a joint employer. Many franchise owners fear that if that is the case, they could lose control over businesses they worked so hard to build, even if it seems as if they had very little control in the first place.
Charles W. Miller & Associates is an Indiana and Kentucky plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. If you need a Kentucky or Indiana employment law attorney, contact us today for a free consultation.